Dirty Bombs and Nuclear Accidents, Are You Prepared?

Dirty Bombs and Nuclear Accidents, Are You Prepared?

Dirty Bombs and Nuclear Accidents, Are You Prepared?

The 'nuke scenario' remains but what about dirty bombs or another 'Fukushima'. Hopefully neither will occur, but the odds are one or the other will happen in our future. Are you prepared?

     
Dirty Bombs and Nuclear Accidents, Are You Prepared?
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Nuclear disarmament is here. The Cold War may seem so far away and may have become a joking matter for some. Unfortunately, there are still countries building up on weapons of mass destruction, which raises the potential for a nuclear denotation. But what about the likelihood that a dirty bomb will explode or we will have another nuclear accident similar to Fukushima?

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the danger of a dirty bomb being detonated is real, but the sources of the threats have changed. During the Cold War, the main international security concern was the fear of a nuclear war and the spread of nuclear weapons.

The post-Cold War era presented new security challenges, which recognized the need to strengthen the international physical protection of nuclear materials. In the post-9/11 period, threat perceptions include the potential terrorist use of an improvised nuclear explosive device, the use of a radiological dispersal device (RDD) and attacks against nuclear facilities, i.e. sabotage.

These threats point to the need for an overall strengthening of global nuclear security with special attention to "weak links" that may offer soft targets for terrorists or criminals.

So, what's a dirty bomb?

When we think of dirty bombs, what comes to mind are what we’ve seen on films – that massive mushroom cloud and devastation. There were several films which featured the A-bombing in Japan such as White Light/Black Rain. Other doomsday films tried to depict a nuke explosion as part of Work War III, including classics like The Day After, Threads, and When the Wind Blows. And there have been documentary films including the BBC History of World War II and Trinity and Beyond.1

However, "a dirty bomb is an improvised nuclear device, created from radioactive nuclear waste material and conventional explosives. When a dirty bomb is detonated the explosion carries the nuclear waste material into the atmosphere where it is subject to dispersal by wind and rain. The aim of the dirty bomb is to cause wide-spread contamination of the target area. If detonated in a city a well designed dirty bomb could cause panic, radiation-related illnesses (both long-term and short-term) and possibly the abandonment or demolition of highly contaminated areas".2

In other words, a dirty bomb is typically a radiological dispersion devise (RDD), as opposed to a nuclear bomb, but RDDs may also be associated with bioterrorism or non-radioactive chemical warfare.

Obviously dirty bombs are not as dramatic as a nuclear denotation but their effects on the population, although on a smaller scale, are similar. Those who survive the direct explosion are exposed to high levels of radiation that will persist for a long period of time. Everything is contaminated in the ‘blast area’ including food and water supplies. Then comes the fallout. The BBC film described “black rain” due to the “ash & smoke sucked up into the mushroom cloud” that later fell down as fat heavy drops of highly radioactive black fluid.3

Alright, what's the world doing to protect us?

After the Second World War, most countries set up the-so called “nuclear war preparedness” strategies aimed to protect each country and its citizens from nuclear disaster. However, these strategies differ from country to country and although most of these, understandably, are kept confidential, some details are given to ease public concern.

Blast shelters were generally built to provide protection from the pressure blast of the bomb, the ensuing heat and fire and the initially high levels of radiation and were usually located in a underground bunker. However, blast shelters could not withstand a direct hit from a nuclear detonation.

The film “Blast from the Past” depicted quite well what a blast shelter could look like. In some countries, bunkers were incorporated into all building constructions to ensure that every resident would be protected. The Swiss started this practice around the Second World War and although many bunkers are now “debunked”, there are still many of these shelters used and maintained for military use. Another country with lots of bunkers is Singapore.

Most developed countries also built strategic blast shelters during the cold war. These bunkers were top secret and were meant to protect country leaders in times of war. The Diefenbunker in Canada was set up during the Cold War in preparation for a detonation as the country lies on the missile paths between the US and the USSR. It consists of a 4-storey largely underground structure. It is now open to the public as the Cold War Museum of Canada.4

Fallout shelters were the other part of the equation to protect the population from the radiation and the fallout from the blast. Bunkers can also protect from fallout but in the absence of bunkers, any protected space or structure will do as long as “the walls and roof are thick and dense enough to absorb the radiation given off by fallout particles".

According to Are You Ready Guide,  FEMA’s most comprehensive source on individual, family and community preparedness, three factors determine the protective properties of fallout shelters:

  • Shielding. The more heavy dense materials, thick walls, concrete, bricks, books and earth between you and the fallout particles, the better.
  • Distance. An underground area, such as a home or office building basement, offers more protection than the first floor of a building. A floor near the middle of a high-rise may be better, depending on what is nearby at that level on which significant fallout particles would collect. Flat roofs collect fallout particles so the top floor is not a good choice, nor is a floor adjacent to a neighboring flat roof.
  • Time. Fallout radiation loses its intensity fairly rapidly. In time, you will be able to leave the fallout shelter. Radioactive fallout poses the greatest threat to people during the first two weeks, by which time it has declined to about 1% of its initial radiation level.5

Countries continue to update their so-called nuclear preparedness. Unlike Switzerland community fallout shelters are a thing of the past both in Canada and the United States. However, some communities may still have designated fallout shelters such as schools, sport centers and public buildings, if you can find them.

On September 2010, the Nuclear Detonation Response Communications Working Group in the U.S. issued the interim document Nuclear Detonation Preparedness-Communicating in the Immediate Aftermath. Go deep inside, stay inside,stay tuned. In May 2011, the European Platform on Preparedness for Nuclear and Radiological Emergency response and Recovery (NERIS) held a meeting in Paris.  Understandably, Fukushima was a major topic.6,7

The deliberate use of dirty bombs is probably not the main source of nuclear contamination that we should be scared of.

Nuclear accidents (Fukushima) and nuclear testing may actually cause more damage. To get things into perspective, accidents in nuclear power plants can actually produce radiation equivalent to or even more than what an A-bomb does.8

According to the IAEA: The accident at Chernobyl was approximately 400 times more potent than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. However, the atomic bomb testing conducted by several countries around the world during the 1960s and 1970s contributed 100 to 1,000 times more radioactive material to the environment than Chernobyl.9

Below is a table from the Hiroshima International Council for Health Care of the Radiation-exposed which compares the damage caused by the A-Bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the nuclear accident in Chernobyl and the nuclear weapons testing in Simipalatinsk in Kazakhstan.10

Category

Hiroshima

Nagasaki

Chernobyl

Semipalatinsk

Time

August 6, 1945

August 9, 1945

April 26, 1986

1949-1989

Cause

Atomic bombing

Atomic bombing

Nuclear power plant accident

Nuclear weapons tests

No. of those exposed

About 350,000

About 270,000

1.6-9 million

(Depending on different statistics. Details unknown.)

About 1 million

(Details unknown)

No. of fatalities

About 140,000

About 70,000

About 30 (Due to acute radiation injury)

Unknown

Scope of damage

2-km radius zone and the surrounding area

Same

The former Soviet Union and Europe

Eastern part of Kazakhstan

 

Although the “Blast from the Past” was simply a comedy film, there was a grain of truth in it. The incident of the “Missiles of October” and the “Cuba Crisis” scared people and many set up hideaways and shelters in remote places and stocked up on supplies.

OK, how does one prepare for a dirty bomb attack or nuclear accident? 11,12

What to do, if heaven forbid, the inevitable happens:13 

  • Don’t stop and look and don’t think it is just another drill. Take shelter immediately in a fallout shelter. If you do not have your own fallout shelter or the community fallout shelter is too far away, take shelter anywhere immediately, preferably below the ground floor level, the lower below the ground, the better.
  • Stay in the shelter for at least 2 weeks. The heaviest fallout will occur within 24 hours of the detonation and radioactivity will gradually decrease but it will take time till it dissipates to safe levels.
  • Decontaminate yourself as much as possible, including taking a shower, if available, and getting rid of contaminated clothing.
  • Ration your supplies so they can last for 2 weeks, possibly even longer.
  • Listen to official statements about evacuation and instructions on returning home.

The Bottom Line

Although the 'nuke scenario' remains, the threat of a 'dirty bomb' or another 'Fukushima' is more likely. Hopefully, neither will occur but the odds are one or the other will happen. Are you prepared? 

 

Photo By: Government Press Office


References

  1. Top 15 Best Nuclear War Movies, ListVerse.com
  2. 'Dirty Bombs': Technical Background, Attack Prevention and Response, Issues for Congress, August 11,2011, army-technology.com
  3. Hiroshima black rain, You Tube.com 
  4. Diefenbunker, Canda's Cold War Museum
  5. Are You Ready Guide, FEMA
  6. Interim document Nuclear Detonation Preparedness-Communicating in the Immediate Aftermath, The Nuclear Detonation Response Communications Working Group
  7. European Platform on Preparedness for Nuclear and Radiological Emergency Response and Recovery, NERIS
  8. Connor S, Surviving Radioactive Fallout & Radiation Contamination from Japan, Iran or North Korea, March 12, 2011
  9. Frequently Asked Chernobyl Questions, IAEA
  10. Global Radiation Exposures, Hiroshima International Council for Health Care of the Radiation-exposed 
  11. 11 Steps to Survival, Canada Emergency Services Organization, Department of National Defence, Updated July 23, 2010
  12. Kearny, C.H. Nuclear War Survival Skills, 1987 
  13. Lane F, The ABC's of NBC Warfare Survival, A Public Guide to Surviving Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Terrorist Attacks, survive-nbc.org, 2002

 

 

 

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Last Updated : Thursday, June 5, 2014